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OLYMPIA — Admitting that it's not the final solultion to the state's fiscal problem but a way to "move the process forward", House Democrats passed and sent to the Senate a spending plan to fill the state's budget hole.
The most important aspect of the budget that passed on a 54-42 vote, Ways and Means Chairman Ross Hunter emphasized, is "it does not cut education."
That's a not too-veiled reference to a budget passed in the regular session by Senate Republicans and three break away Democrats that did cut public schools and colleges. That group has since proposed a budget that restored those cuts to education, but it has yet to receive a vote.
The House budget has no new taxes — some could be added later, including a tax on "roll your own" cigarettes the chamber passed earlier in the day and sent to the Senate — and leaves the state with an ending fund balance of about $336 million, or less than 2 percent of the overall two-year budget of nearly $31 billion.
"This is part of the resolution to the special session," Hunter, D-Medina, said. The 30-day special session must end at midnight Tuesday, and many state officials believe it will be difficult to meet that deadline
Republicans said the budget doesn't go far enough to rein in state spending practices.
"It's not sustainable without the reforms," Rep. Gary Alexander, R-Olympia, said. "It detracts from the negotiations process."
The Senate could vote on the budget as early as tomorrow if its members can reach agreement on several reforms, Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, the chairman of that chamber's budget committee said.
OLYMPIA — House Democrats offered a budget plan that doesn't call for a state tax increase and doesn't make some of the cuts to public schools and state services that Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed in November.
The school year wouldn't be shorter. The money the state sends to school districts to help make up for the differences in property values between rich areas and poor areas, known as levy equalization, wouldn't be cut. Inmates wouldn't be released early from state prisons.
But House Democrats did propose pulling back some state money currently going to counties and cities, then giving local governments the authority to raise local taxes to cover the difference. They do delay payments to school districts, in what some Republicans call an accounting gimmick. They reduce state employment by more than 1,500 full-time workers. They would leave less money in the treasury at the end of the fiscal period than either Gregoire or the House Republicans. . .
OLYMPIA – House Republicans, who say they are fed up with the slow pace of budgeting process in a session where that was supposed to be the main thing the Legislature tackled, argued Thursday for a new approach.
The state should set aside what it wants to spend on K-12 education first, then figure out what’s left for other state programs. They call it "Fund Education First" and say it’s in line with both the state Constitution’s declaration that education in the state's public schools is the state’s "paramount duty" and a recent state Supreme Court ruling that the Legislature must do more to meet that duty.
"This is not a gimmick. It’s a workable solution," said Rep. Kevin Parker, R-Spokane, a co-sponsor of a bipartisan bill that would make that change in budgeting.
The state Senate and House this morning each approved spending cuts this morning, in the first of what will be several whacks at state spending.
“For those that say you want to cut more, just sit in your seats,” said House budget writer Rep. Kelli Linville, D-Bellingham. “You’ll have a chance.”
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, clearly responding to Gov. Chris Gregoire’s criticism of lawmakers’ budget-cutting pace earlier in the week, said that no Washington legislature has ever approved budget reductions this early in a legislative session.
Brown also said lawmakers were proud to preserve a state plan to allow families living on up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level ($63,600 for a family of 4) to buy into the state’s health insurance plan for kids.
“The sacred cow here is kids’ health,” she said in a press release. “We are keeping a commitment.”
In the House, Rep. Gary Alexander said that the bill there is a first step in state belt-tightening. But he warned that “we’re going to have to go many, many, many notches further.”
Pushing the metaphor further, Alexander suggested that lawmakers might, in fact, have to “take our pants off and go back and purchase a pair that are about three sizes smaller.”